On the rights and power of the holy priesthood office (1) and on the way and manner in which it was bestowed on the church of “Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.”
The subject of the priesthood office has by itself already caused more contention, bitterness and jealousy between the Catholic and the Protestant church than all remaining matters of dispute combined. The church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is not inclined to get involved with such controversies, all the less so because it has no reason to.
The definition of the priesthood office can be viewed in the following way: power and authority (2) were bestowed by Christ himself on man by which he was authorized to preach and declare the word of life, and to build up and organize the house of God and govern it in meekness and purity as well as to perform all the practices, ceremonies and ordinances (3) of the church in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
Whoever on Earth possesses this power and authority (2) is the representative of the Savior, the envoy of the Most High; and since he is acting in the place of Christ, his official acts are recognized as equal to divine acts. For what he will bind on Earth will also be bound in Heaven, and what he will loose on Earth will also be loosed in Heaven.
He who thinks to act in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost without having legitimately received this bestowed authority takes on the awful responsibility of running before he has been sent and doing that for which Heaven has neither authorized nor qualified him. Therefore he will be of no use to the people but will instead deceive himself and ensnare his own soul. Various levels of authority are imparted among human beings appropriate to the position which they are called to fill in the church. Some are apostles, others prophets, and some evangelists and pastors (5) and teachers etc., but all these classes or levels of authority stand under the head of the priesthood office.
In 1829, after Joseph Smith and Mr. Cowdry (6), the scribe and secretary of the former, had almost entirely finished the translation of the “Book of Mormon,” they perceived from it that the true manner of baptism consisted in immersion of the entire body in water. Thus an intense desire to be baptized arose in them. But since they knew of no one in all the churches known to them who would have been authorized to carry out this commandment (4) on them, they resolved to cry to the Lord for light and instruction concerning the way they were to go. They had not long continued with resolute fervor when the Lord sent them His angel, who stood before them, placed his hands on their heads and commanded them to baptize each other, which they immediately did. I will quote Mr. Cowdry’s own words on this subject in a letter to one of his most trusted friends, Judge Phelphs, in which he describes the simplicity, grandeur and majesty of this scene in a very fine way.
[A long excerpt from Oliver Cowdery’s Letter 1 to W.W. Phelps (p. 6, beginning “No men in their sober senses could translate and write the directions given to the Nephites,” to the end) follows. I am omitting this long quotation for now.]
From the earlier remarks as well as from the preceding excerpts from the letter of Mr. O. Cowdry to his trusted friend, Judge Phelps, it can easily be discovered that our church bears no relationship at all to the Catholic or to the Protestant church with regards to its origin, its priesthood office and its ordinances (3). Therefore we also make no claims, neither to the rights nor to the authority of the priesthood office, of any of these established churches, for just like the materials from which Solomon’s Temple was constructed, taken from the rugged cliffs of Lebanon and transformed into a glorious house in which the Lord himself deigned to reside, the foundation of our church was obtained from the quarry of nature without having previously lain under the polishing chisel of any religious sect; and therefore it was able to take on any form that it pleased the great Architect to give him. (7)
And thus it pleased the Lord to send His angel from Heaven with the seal of authority to confer it on the people on Earth “in the eleventh hour of the day” to fulfill all that He had revealed to his servant John on the isle of Patmos; Revel. 14: 6-7… And also 7: 2… And again 18: 1… [Quotations of biblical verses omitted]
From these quotations and many others that can be noted from the Old and New Testaments, it can clearly be seen that the Lord himself intervened in the times of the approaching end to break open the seals of hidden secrets, put an end to sin and establish eternal justice so that many run to and fro and knowledge might increase forever. See Daniel 12:4. You wise men, rulers and teachers of the people, consider well these weighty matters!
The morning already beams and the shadows flee
And Zion’s banner is unfurled in the wind;
I see the dawning of a brighter day gathering
High above this world in radiant gold. (8)
* * *
(1) The phrases “priesthood office” and “office of the priesthood” reflect the German formation Priester-Amt or Priesteramt, used throughout this section, which in turn seems to reflect a translator trying to deal with the word “priesthood” and a concept of priesthood that doesn’t map neatly onto German alternatives. I’ll put up the Bat Signal for J. Stapley’s thoughts.
(2) The word translated here as “authority” is Gewalt, which is a much broader term in German and can mean violence, power and the legitimate right to exercise power.
(3) There are multiple words meaning something like “rules, regulations” that I think reflect a translator struggling with “ordinance.” The first is Anordnungen, the second is Regeln.
(4) In this case too, I suspect Vorschrift “rule, regulation” is another attempt to translate “ordinance,” but it can also more straightforwardly reflect “commandment,” and so I have left it as that for now.
(5) The translator uses the word Hirten, “shepherds,” but this wasn’t uncommon as an ecclesiastic term.
(6) This is how the text has the name Cowdery.
(7) The image of the priesthood taken directly from nature is striking and one I don’t recall seeing before.
(8) This is a quotation from “The Morning Breaks,” the hymn written by Parley Pratt.